Watching new movies with kids in mind

By Jane Horwitz
Friday, February 4, 2011; T30


"THE ILLUSIONIST." This new animated film from French director Sylvain Chomet - his stunning "The Triplets of Belleville" (PG-13, 2003) was unforgettable - is reason for celebration and is an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature. Made the old-fashioned way, with hand-drawn animation, "The Illusionist" is handsomely conceived, highly atmospheric and quietly droll. It's based on a script by the late legendary French filmmaker Jacques Tati. An aging, stately French magician performs to ever-shrinking audiences in the late 1950s, touring through France, England and Scotland. Even his rabbit bites his hand. On a remote Scottish island, the Illusionist meets a shy teenage girl working there. He takes a paternal liking to her and gives her gifts she believes he creates by magic. When he leaves, she follows him. Eventually, the girl matures and their time together must end.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film is probably not for kids younger than 10 because of its somber tone and focus on adult loneliness. The happy-sad story and palpable sense of solitude make this a film for thoughtful kids. Several characters (though never the young girl) smoke and drink - remember, it's Europe and the U.K. in the late 1950s. A woman in the hotel leads a man to her room in a way that suggests she is a prostitute. A secondary character begins a suicide attempt but does not complete it.


"THE RITE." High-schoolers fascinated by occult thrillers may be pulled into the baroque world of this film. Based on a novel by Matt Baglio, it's about Michael (Colin O'Donoghue), a skeptical American seminarian who doubts his own faith. A professor sends Michael to Rome to train as an exorcist, believing that his childhood helping his father (Rutger Hauer) run a mortuary will help him handle exorcisms. Though it incorporates all the cliches of the genre, "The Rite" also benefits from intelligent writing and an excellent cast that underplays the story's lurid aspects. And once Michael meets an aging exorcist, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), in Rome and a journalist (Alice Braga) interested in exorcism, the talk and action pick up nicely.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film's violent episodes are not excessively graphic, but they are disturbing enough to be problematic for some middle-schoolers. Exorcism scenes show a young pregnant woman (who we learn was raped by her father) contorting and writhing and spitting out nails. A boy who has nightmares about a demon mule has hoof marks and bite marks on his torso. The faces of characters possessed by demons go through veiny transformations. One character has a fatal hemorrhage. The script includes occasional midrange profanity. A couple of lethal road crashes are depicted, and Michael has flashbacks to his childhood, with his mother dead on the mortuary table.

"ANOTHER YEAR." An utterly un-Hollywood film, "Another Year" unfolds at a leisurely pace and is very much worth the attention of teen cinema buffs. Working with many of his regular troupe of actors, innovative British writer-director Mike Leigh (Oscar nominated for original screenplay) takes a look at Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a happily married couple who are so genuinely kindhearted that miserable people are forever drawn to their easygoing warmth and they haven't the heart to turn anyone away. The movie follows Gerri, Tom and their needy circle of friends and family through a full year, each season noted with the couple working in their communal garden plot. They are not beautiful or rich but are beguiling all the same.

The bottom line: Themes that deal with adult loneliness (Imelda Staunton is amazing as a patient of Gerri's) and depression may be too intense for some younger teens. Characters drink to excess and smoke. One estranged relative is apparently a criminal and quite threatening in his demeanor. The dialogue includes occasional profanity.


"SANCTUM." The one thing you can say about this movie is that its 3-D format has the effect of making you feel like you're alongside the characters in an enormous, flooding cave. Alas, the 3-D does nothing to improve the dialogue and predictability. Shot in Australia, it's the story of an expedition to a cave in New Guinea. The billionaire sponsor Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) and girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) are arrogantly confident. Then a storm hits on the surface and floods the cave. Team leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) tries to save everyone, but the situation worsens and people begin to die.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Though "Sanctum" is a relatively mild R, the script is full of strong profanity. As the situation worsens, we see severe injuries and drownings. The dead bodies also tend to reappear. In a couple of instances, suffering characters are "helped" to die.

"THE MECHANIC." Teens 17 and older who love to see Jason Statham do his tough-guy thing won't be disappointed. He plays a hit man who takes his orders from the genial Harry (Donald Sutherland). Then one day the head guy (Tony Goldwyn) at the murky organization for which they both work tells him he must kill Harry, who has become a loose cannon. Things get messier when Harry's bereft son gets involved.

The bottom line: Victims die by drowning, strangulation, stabbing, point-blank gunfire, beating and in explosions. The script contains strong profanity and a couple of explicit sexual situations with partial nudity. Characters smoke and drink.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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